Seen Huntington Beach Helicopters Lately?
If you're a municipal fire chief would you send your entire staff and all their equipment 500 miles away to a conference at the same time? Of course not! If you're a police chief would you send your entire force, including all their cars, motorcycles and other specialized equipment to a workshop in another state at the same time? Of course not!
HUNTINGTON BEACH CHOPPERS ALL IN RENO!
OK, how then, do we explain the fact that the entire Huntington Beach helicopter program - all three choppers and all their pilots - have decamped to Reno, Nevada for the Airborne Law Enforcement Conference this week? Read about it HERE. That's right - the whole shebang flew their choppers 500 miles away, apparently leaving their home city and contract cities - Costa Mesa and Newport Beach - to be covered by Anaheim and/or the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
COSTA MESA PD KNEW
A friend alerted me to this bizarre situation late last night - too late to do any follow-up with officials in Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach. I did send an email to Chief Tom Gazsi last night, though, and he replied that he'd seen a communication from Huntington Beach that their choppers would not be available until next Monday. Apparently the Orange County Sheriff's Department and Anaheim would provide coverage.
NEWPORT BEACH AFFIRMS
Police personnel in Newport Beach also confirmed that the Huntington Beach helicopters were not presently available, and that they would be contacting other agencies for help if necessary.
GETTING THE STRAIGHT SCOOP
I tried to contact officials in Huntington Beach about this situation, but, being Friday, had a hard time finding anyone in charge that could respond to the question. Finally I was connected with a captain in the Police Department. When I asked him about this report he replied, "Definitely not!", and took offense that I would put any credence to such an unsubstantiated rumor. He said, "They're all over at the heliport!" We talked awhile, then he said he'd check this out and get back to me, which he did within a few minutes. That call was very different. He confirmed that the entire helicopter staff had flown their choppers to Reno for the conference. He told me that McDonald Douglas paid for one chopper to go as a marketing effort to sell more of their helicopters and that the others flew up to Reno so the pilots could get "cross-country time". He apologized to me for his earlier hostile response, stating that he just couldn't imagine all the pilots and all the equipment flying off to Reno at the same time. Hmmm, neither could I.
TRAINING IS ONE THING, BUT...
Having flown helicopters in the military myself, I understand the interest in getting "cross-country time" under your belt. In the normal course of patrolling locally the opportunity for such flights would be few and far between. Once you're licensed it's not required, but is helpful to keep your skills up. I don't have a problem with that. Nor do I have a problem with pilots attending that conference. What I DO have a problem with is the entire crew ALL attending at the same time, leaving their area of responsibility for other entities to TRY to cover!
Beyond being a truly strange management decision, the potential impact on local public safety is enormous! They will be gone through this entire weekend - a time when the Orange County Fair opens with what is expected to be record crowds AND both Newport Beach and Huntington Beach are expecting large beach crowds, too.
IT'S NOT THE MONEY, IT'S THE RESPONSIBILITY
OK, and before you jump all over me for implying that the absence of Huntington Beach helicopters is costing us money, I know that we only pay them for the actual hours we use. That's not the question. The question is one of professional responsibility and what certainly seems to be a major lapse in management judgment on the part of those in charge over on the other side of the Santa Ana River.
WHAT DOES OUR CONTRACT REQUIRE?
I don't know if the terms of the contract Costa Mesa has with Huntington Beach require a certain level of availability or not. I imagine there is an expectation of a minimum level of coverage somewhere in it - maybe not. I've spoken with former A.B.L.E. members who tell me that this conference is a very valuable training experience, but they NEVER sent the entire organization at the same time. Usually one flight crew and a supervisor would attend, then share the knowledge acquired with the remainder of the organization. And, they NEVER flew A.B.L.E. choppers to these events - they flew commercial airlines.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Is this a big deal? I don't know... you tell me. I acknowledge a heightened sensitivity to this issue because of the rapidly-rising crime rate in Costa Mesa and wonder how more frequent helicopter coverage might affect it. In my view, it becomes a big deal if we need helicopter coverage on an event and can't get it on a timely basis because our contractor is out of town. I'm interested in your views...